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Thursday, April 9thy, 205

Baton Rouge, Louisiana



The Civil War came to an end 150 years ago this week when an exhausted confederate army, led by General Robert E. Lee, formally surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at a farmhouse in Appomattox, Virginia. From the beginning of the war to a bitter end on both sides, Louisiana played key roles in how this tragic war was fought.

Don’t you know it was a French Creole General from St. Bernard Parish who started the whole thing by firing the first shot at Fort Sumter back on April 12th, 1861? Pierre Gustave Toutant-Beauregard was born on a sugar cane plantation, trained at the United States Military Academy as a civil engineer, served for a short time as superintendent at West Point, then resigned to became the first brigadier general of the Confederate States Army. He didn’t do so badly after the South was defeated, retuning to Louisiana to make a fortune promoting the Louisiana Lottery.

The first president of the confederacy was Jefferson Davis, who Mississippians claim as one of their own. But Davis spent a number of his younger years in both St. Mary and West Feliciana Parishes. When he was elected to lead the confederacy, his home was on Davis Island Surrounded by the Mississippi River across from Newellton, La. The cut off of the river should have technically made the Davis home in Tensas Parish rather than Warren County, Mississippi. Louisiana Governor John McKeithen made a number of trips to walk the ruins of Davis Island. Davis died in in a New Orleans Garden district home, and was initially buried in Metairie Cemetery. So his Louisiana bond, from youth to death, is extensive.

Union Army General William Sherman had strong Louisiana ties, but turned out to be one of the most vicious, vengeful, and polarizing military leaders of the entire war. History will remember him as a no holds bared, take no prisoners commander who left a path of devastation, death and destruction during his notorious “march to the sea” to capture and burn Atlanta. This was the beginning of the end for the South. Louisiana will remember him as the ungrateful first president (then called Superintendent) of LSU when he was appointed in 1859.

Though he initially took pride in the job he began, Sherman had no qualms over trashing LSU. After the war ended, he wrote to a former teaching colleague in Baton Rouge that: “The commonest of the common schools of Iowa outrank in public estimation your university.” So much for Sherman’s appreciation of what today is the state’s flagship university.

Here in my home state of Louisiana, we are surrounded by remnants of the war’s bloody battles. When I began my law practice in Northeast Louisiana across the Mississippi River from Natchez, my home was the Lisburn Plantation, just north of Ferriday.  To make his final siege of Vicksburg in one of the final and decisive battles of the Civil War, General Ulysses S. Grant commandeered my future home to headquarter for several days before crossing the Mississippi River and attacking Vicksburg from the South. Vicksburg was called “the Gibraltar of the Confederacy,” being located on a high bluff overlooking the Mississippi River. Many historians believed that the fall of Vicksburg was the death knell for any chance of the South’s survival.

As Grant undertook his offensive against Vicksburg, Union Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks’ army moved against the Confederate stronghold at Port Hudson on the Mississippi River just north of my current home of Baton Rouge. On May 27, after their frontal assaults were repulsed, the Federals settled into a siege, which lasted for 48 days.

On hearing of the fall of Vicksburg, the Confederate garrison of Port Hudson surrendered, opening the Mississippi River to Union navigation from its source to New Orleans.   There were 12,208 casualties at Port Hudson of which 7,208 were Union soldiers. Numerous similar battles took place throughout Louisiana with devastating results of death and destruction for both Union and Confederate soldiers.

Over one million Americans were killed during the Civil War, the largest loss of life during wartime in U.S. history. It was a huge disaster for both the North and the South. And at the beginning and the end, from the highs to the lows, Louisiana was right in the middle of a turning point in American history.

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide.  You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownla.com.  You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownla.com.




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